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Tuesday, Oct 15, 2019

Rahul Gandhi more than competent to lead party: Capt Amarinder

Before the 2017 polls, while I was aware that things were bad, I did not know the extent of the mess which the Akalis and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had left behind.

india Updated: Sep 28, 2019 00:31 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Chandigarh
Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh spoke to the Hindustan Times about the future course for the Congress
Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh spoke to the Hindustan Times about the future course for the Congress(HT Photo)
         

Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh spoke to the Hindustan Times about the future course for the Congress, the young leaders versus ‘old guard’ debate, and his take on national issues such as cross-border terror. Edited excerpts:

You had earlier said that the 2017 polls were your last. But now you want to re-contest in 2022. What has brought about the change?

If you look at my interviews soon after I took over, I had made it clear that I would continue as long as Punjab and its people need me. Before the 2017 polls, while I was aware that things were bad, I did not know the extent of the mess which the Akalis and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had left behind. Immediately after taking over, I realised that one term may not be enough to address all the problems and put Punjab back in its earlier position as the country’s front-ranking state. Hence my decision to re-contest, if needed. Of course, if we are able to correct all the ills in the next two-and-a-half years, I would be more than happy to hand over the reins to the next generation.

You have been advocating Rahul Gandhi’s return as Congress president. Will he heed your advice? Have you spoken to him about it?

We, the senior party leaders, have individually and collectively spoken to Rahul many times on the issue. Unfortunately, he has stayed adamant. He has taken the onus of the party’s defeat in the Lok Sabha polls on himself, which is really not correct. It was a collective responsibility and Rahul wasn’t to blame. But perhaps he needs time to introspect and think things through before he’s ready to don the Congress president’s mantle again.

Rahul’s return, if at all, will again expose the Congress to the charge of being controlled by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Won’t that be a problem in the absence of tangible issues against the BJP, especially Narendra Modi?

I don’t understand this talk of dynasty. At the end of the day, only merit makes the difference. Rahul, as I have always maintained, is more than competent to lead the party. If he happens to be part of a certain family, that goes to his advantage, not his disadvantage. Having grown in a political environment cannot be considered a demerit for a political leader, after all!

Running a complex party like the Congress isn’t easy without the right temperament, regardless of merit and popular acceptability. Can the Congress’s young leaders match the temperament and staying power of the top BJP leaders?

I challenge anyone to say that Rahul lacks merit or acceptability. He is one of the most popular leaders in the country today, and understands the pulse of the people better than most, including the so-called top BJP leaders. Staying power comes from staying around long enough in power or position. No youth leader is born with it. It comes with experience. What youth brings to the table is dynamism, a fresh outlook and a new way of thinking, which the nation needs today. Let us also not forget that India is a young nation, with the youth constituting the vast majority of its population. How can the old even begin to understand the aspirations of the young, leave alone fulfil them? The arguments you’ve put forth are the ones propounded by those who are just not willing to relinquish power.

Your positioning on Kashmir, Pakistan and the terror it exports immensely added to your national stature....

I’m not clear what the question is here. But the stand I’ve taken on these issues is what I truly feel, from the bottom of the heart. Having witnessed these issues closely, as an ex-Army man and a leader of a border state like Punjab, which has borne the brunt of cross-border terrorism in its dark days, I can say with confidence that these issues go beyond partisan political affiliations. Every Indian relates to these issues in the same way; that is what nationalism is all about.

The question is that why are you shy of taking up a major organisational position in the Congress at the Centre?

I have never been shy of taking up any responsibility, be it in the state or at the Centre, and would continue to do so, as long as I’m needed to. What I’ve said is that Punjab is going through difficult times in many ways and I want to do everything in my power to set it right, as I had promised to the people.

First Published: Sep 27, 2019 23:57 IST

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